Sometimes the world has a pretty dim view of London and prefers cities such as Paris and New York for photography. They're both grand cities; I know this first hand, but London is a wonderful place and more importantly it's full of some of the most colourful characters you're likely meet almost anywhere in the world!
In London over 300 languages are spoken (Not including the local dialect 'Cockney' :) ). Over 8 Million people call London home and it is the most visited city in the world.
So, when it comes to making portraits of strangers I'm very fortunate to have the City of London on my doorstep.
The Ready Steady Pro Street Photography Photo Walk
On Sunday 27th April I took over 20 photographers on a photo walk in London. The walk, organised as part of The Ready Steady Pro series of meetups, would take in a 4 mile route, passing through Covent Garden, Leicester Square, Carnaby Street, The Mall, Westminster and South Bank. It may not seem like very far, but with over 20 photographers and countless coffee stops (mostly my fault) it took the best part of 6 hours!
Outside Your Comfort Zone
As the organiser and an experienced street photographer It was my aim to get the group out of their comfort zone by making street portraits. This involves approaching complete strangers on the street and making their photograph with their permission. It was something that many of the group were very uncomfortable doing at first, but by the end of the day, after plenty of encouragement and advice (which I'll write about in my next post - Subscribe to receive updates via email) it seems almost everyone had made a few portraits of their own.
I was really pleased to see people getting outside of their comfort zone and talking to locals and tourists.
Gear & Equipment
There were all sorts of cameras to be seen on the day: Sony, Nikon, Canon, Fuji and Olympus (xx was even using an Olympus OM Film Camera!) I personally had my favourite camera to hand: my Olympus OM-D E-M5. Seeing as the walk was hosted in conjunction with Paul Griffith's One Camera One Lens community I made the decision to try and not change lenses all day, so bar a couple of photographs, these portraits were made with the Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8mm prime lens (effectively 34mm owing to the x2 crop factor of Micro Four Thirds). It wasn't later on in the day until Linda Johnston and I had a chance to catch up that I had a play with the M.Zuiko Pro 12-40mm f/2.8 (giving an equivalent focal range of 24-80mm). I almost didn't give this lens back to Linda!
I've included all of the EXIF data: just hover above the photographs to see the details.
Enjoy the portraits! You can also click them to enjoy them full screen
We were casually walking through South Bank having a conversation about photography when I noticed this chap briskly walking towards us. I promptly stopped whatever it was that I was saying in the conversation and stepped into this young chaps' path "Wow! Can I please, please make your photograph?" I asked. It wasn't my usual method of convincing people I'm a trustworthy person and that they should let me photograph them, but this guy was in such a rush that I couldn't afford to miss the opportunity.
He kindly obliged and I had him step to one side so I could put the river and some sort of skyline behind him. With the sky now being behind I made a quick adjustment to the aperture and shutter speed to expose correctly and made 3 frames.
As always I took his email address and I'll send him this photograph shortly.
On our way to Leicester Square we walked through The Burlington Arcade in Mayfair. The Arcade is home to many fine shops selling what can only be described as 'Premium' goods; luxury cashmere sweaters, antique fountain pens and of course - a Leica Camera store! We couldn't resist so a few of us went in for a look around. The store is barely 10 feet by 8 feet but it had enough Leica's on display that when sold would amount to more than I'm likely to spend on camera gear in an entire lifetime! Put it this way - the prices weren't on display. And when the prices aren't shown, you know you can't afford something, right?
This man greeted us as we entered, with our cameras in our hands and around our necks a few of us piled into this tiny, minimalist store to adore the Leica cameras which were stored behind glass to protect them from drooling enthusiasts who go there to dream. They weren't prepared to just let us play with the cameras unfortunately, but after some casual conversation, some quizzing about how much of a staff discount he got (which he wasn't prepared to share with me) and after he'd had a good look at my E-M5 I asked to make his photograph - which he was more than happy to allow me to do. For good measure I was sure to include the Leica's in the background here.
I'm not really into my gear too much, but they had a particularly impressive display behind glass in the middle of the store, where they showed the stages of the making of the T-System from one block of aluminium, to the finished camera. This video explains the process.
Perhaps my personal favourite from the day. This is Keith. I was encouraging a participant of the walk to approach strangers and ask to make their portrait. As I said earlier It's easier for some people than it is for others so on this occasion to demonstrate I said "Look, just watch me". I spotted this guy waiting in the middle of the street. He was easy to spot: other people seemed comparatively plain looking, but this guy had his cool hat and dark shades - He was my next portrait!
"Hey there, I love the hat! I look like such a dork in hats! Where did you get it from?" I asked
"I got this back home in The States" He said in an American accent. "Hats don't really suit me either but I don't care" he continued
"No! It looks cool on you, it really does. Do you mind if I make your picture?"
"Yeah sure, go ahead"
As I got into position he started telling me that he was from Seattle and that he was here doing the tourist thing at the moment. We continued our conversation, I explained that we were there in London doing Street Photography. I handed him a business card, thanked him for his time and we continued on down Carnaby Street.
As we got past Leicester Square we stopped for a coffee for a short while. Many people were a little achy by this point. Just next door the Costa where we stopped were these guys (above and below) standing outside a shop providing people with samples. Of course, being the sort of people to get attention and provide samples meant that they were happy go lucky and confident. After trying the Tea and the Cold Hot Chocolate I asked this guy for his portrait. At first he was little unsure, but it just a took a "Oh come on!" to convince him: "Go on then!" he said.
I included the tray of sample drinks in the frame to show what he was doing on the street.
Next up for a portrait was this guy. When I first approached him and his colleague they were both a little unsure, as many potential subjects can be: it's not every day someone stops to chat to you and then asks to make your photograph!
After making the photograph of the gentleman in the previous picture we all had a little laugh and then it became a little competetive. This guy here agreed to have his picture taken because the other guy had just has his done too. So rather than standing there a little nervously this chap put on a smile, gave his head an interesting tilt and effectively gave me a pose for the camera. Good on him!
An area of London I've always had success with street portraits is over at South Bank. It seems to be an area that a real odd mix of people walk through. It's south of the river between Westminster Bridge and Waterloo Bridge right next to the London Eye. For this reason you get plenty of tourists, plenty of people who work in London but also a collection of people who seem to be drawn to the area by the Undercroft - a very popular and globally recognised skate park. It's currently under threat as money men want to demolish it and build retail units in it's place. Owing to it's location as I mentioned above it's in a prime position to make any businesses that would potentially occupy the space a good amount of money. However, as the sign in this chaps mouth suggests - "You can't move history"!
I approached this man who was manning a table outside the Skatepark collecting signatures for the 'Save South Bank' petition. I offered a signature in exchange for a portrait, which he happily agreed to. As I wrote my details down on the clipboard he grabbed his hat, shades and the flier and did this!
Next up was a young chap also collecting signatures for the petition. Having seen his friend have his photograph made I think he too warmed to the idea. I didn't have to ask much this time round other than to look at him, gesture by raising the camera and asking "Can I make your picture too?" He nervously nodded and agreed and then seemingly tried to out do his friend and stuck this over his eyes.
I was about to ask him to take it off, but I actually quite like how it turned out. I made a few frames and thanked him. What a cool guy!
By this point in the day we're still at South Bank. As it's close to Waterloo Station, which is linked very well to all areas of London via the Underground, this was an ideal for many people who joined us on the walk to make their way home if they weren't staying later with those of us that were going to have something to eat.
I was saying a few goodbyes and thanking people for coming when I saw this guy walking in our direction. There was no way I couldn't photograph a Jedi in London! Typically, people dressed up like this don't mind having a laugh and clearly don't care so they can be great street portrait subjects. I stopped him and said: "Wow! Great look you've got going on there! Where have you come from, how come's you're dressed as a Jedi?"
"It's the 2014 Sci-fi-London Event. It's closed now you've missed it!"
I asked for his photograph. He pulled out his lightsaber, pressed the button and it made that notorious Lightsaber noise! I made this frame, shook his hand and thanked him. Off he went!
So, that's it for this post. I hope you've enjoyed the photographs and the stories behind them?
Come and join me on a UK Photo walk. Upcoming events include London (29th May) and Brighton (August 17th). We are also making plans for a walk somewhere in the Midlands and perhaps Manchester too. Just subscribe to keep up to date, or head on over and Join the Ready Steady Pro community
Street Portrait Tips
Making Street Portraits can be a challenge for some - You need to bring your confidence and ask the right questions. Next week here on the Blog I'll be sharing my top tips for getting a 'Yes' when asking people if you can make their photograph. Subscribe to receive updates via email